Carving into colour


‘Everyone knows Matisse is all about joy: the joy of dance, colour and life. Though this is self-evident and rightly celebrated, it is a mistake just to accept it or to move on without asking, what is this joy? The standard response would be a synonym (vitality, perhaps) that would add little to an understanding of any real depth. Instead, let’s consider joy as a form of defiance, in the face of grave illness and mortality. Given three years to live (he would survive for more than a decade), Matisse was wheelchair-bound when he created these works. Their very existence is owed to the fact he could no longer paint as he once could. Instead, with assistance, he sculpted in 2D with scissors and paper, or as he called it, “carving into colour”. The results, as authoritatively and delightfully shown in this exhibition, were bold, spirited and inventive, as many critics have attested. To separate them from the impending darkness, however, is to insist on enjoying fireworks in broad daylight. Life, they suggest, is a miracle not just in spite of its transience but because of it. Even the form is one of impermanence; flimsy materials pinned together rather than fixed. They will not last but, for the moment, crucially they do.’

On Tate Modern’s The Cut-Outs.

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